Pro Audio Files

Train Your Ears Become a Member

5 Most Popular Waves Audio Plugins (+ Mix Tips)

Article Content

Waves Audio are without a doubt the most widely used and well known brand of professional audio software and plugins, and have been so for almost 30 years at this point.

Alongside developing the first audio plugin, the Waves Q10 Paragraphic EQ, and the hugely popular L1 Ultramaximizer/Limiter back in the 90s (which are both still being used in major studios all around the world to this day!), Waves remains at the forefront of technological innovation and authentic analog emulation with each new product they release.

On that note, today I’d like to introduce you to 5 Waves plugins I’ve been using heavily on a daily basis for the last 10 years or so. You’ve most definitely heard these being used on thousands of chart-topping records.

Note: although pretty much all of the plugins I’m mentioning in this article are pretty old at this point, the fact that hundreds of chart-topping, A-tier engineers still use them religiously in mixes just goes to show how awesome they still are!

1. SSL E-Channel Channelstrip

Part of the Waves SSL 4000 Collection, but also available to purchase individually, the SSL E-Channel plugin is an authentic emulation of the Solid State Logic 4000-series mixing console of the same name. This console is widely regarded as the most famous mixing desk of all time.

5 Most Popular Waves Audio Plugins (+ Mix Tips)

The go-to choice of platinum hit makers including Chris Lord-Alge, Andy Wallace, Randy Staub, David Bendeth and Bob Clearmountain, SSL consoles are famous for their aggressive, punchy, “in your face” sound.

Green Day’s American Idiot, Nirvana’s Nevermind, Paramore’s Riot, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Nickelback’s Dark Horse were all mixed on SSL consoles and relied heavily on built-in processing!

The plugin consists of a 6-band equalizer section on the left, and a flexible, powerful dynamics section on the right with a great compressor/limiter and gate/expander. The EQ features sweepable high & low-pass filters, and a four-band parametric equalizer.

Check out the video below, in which Eric Tarr gives a great in-depth explanation on how the plugin works, alongside some awesome practical usage examples.

Video Thumbnail

How to Mix w/ Waves SSL G-Channel and E-Channel Plugins

Waves Audio are without a doubt the most widely used and well known brand of professional audio software and plugins, and have been so for almost 30 years at this point. Alongside developing the first audio plugin, the Waves Q10 Paragraphic EQ, and the hugely popular L1 Ultramaximizer/Limiter back i

My Top-tips for Using the SSL E-Channel Plugin

Aggressive Shelving: Don’t be afraid to try cranking a +8-10 dB 8 kHz high-shelf boost on vocals and drums to get them to really shine and cut through. This EQ is highly musical, and I often find myself using it to paint in broad strokes which drastically alter the overall tone of an instrument rather than doing multiple surgical cuts in the mids to try and achieve a similar effect.

Fast/Slow Attack: Depending on whether you’re looking to tame or accentuate the attack of the signal you’re compressing/limiting, definitely make sure to experiment between using the fast or slow attack time setting. On the slow attack setting, the compressor will allow the transients to pass through untouched, resulting in a punchier front-end. On the fast attack time setting the compressor will react quickly and grab the transients, resulting in a softer, less “pokey” front-end.

Gate vs. Expander: When using the gate, don’t just automatically reduce the range knob to maximum in an attempt to obliterate all bleed. Instead, allow a little bit of underlying bleed to remain, and you’ll find that the gate (or technically “expander” at this point) suddenly produces much more natural sounding noise suppression results.

2. CLA-2A Compressor

Part of the CLA Classic Compressors Collection, but also available to purchase individually, the CLA-2A plugin is an authentic emulation of the classic Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier. This remains one of the most popular compressors of all time since its original introduction in the 60s.

5 Most Popular Waves Audio Plugins (+ Mix Tips)

Revered primarily for its smooth and musical gain reduction (compression) effect on lead vocals, the 2A is extremely simple to operate (if not the simplest plugin to operate). It boasts just 2 main controls: gain and peak reduction.

Simply put, insert the plugin on a vocal track, adjust the amount of peak reduction to taste, compensate the overall volume with the gain knob and voila! You’ve got a rich, warm, silky smooth vocal sound in a matter of seconds!

Check out the video below, in which Ian Vargo gives a great practical example of how the CLA-2A can be used to easily level-out a dynamic vocal in an indie rock context.

Video Thumbnail

How to Mix a Smooth Lead Vocal

Waves Audio are without a doubt the most widely used and well known brand of professional audio software and plugins, and have been so for almost 30 years at this point. Alongside developing the first audio plugin, the Waves Q10 Paragraphic EQ, and the hugely popular L1 Ultramaximizer/Limiter back i

My Top-Tips for Using the CLA-2A Plugin

Staged Compression: Although the CLA-2A can work just fine by itself on most mid and slow-tempo material, with faster material you may want to try pairing it with a faster compressor such as the CLA-76. The faster compressor should be inserted beforehand in order to tame the fast peaks and allow the 2A to operate smoothly, without frantically trying to catch up to the fast dynamic fluctuations in the material. This is due to the non-adjustable, slow release time of the plugin. This is a hugely popular compression chain for vocals, and a technique I use on every single mix.

Tube Warmth: Given the fact that the plugin is emulating not only the compression characteristics but also the analog saturation characteristics of the analog unit, even just running audio through the plugin with no peak-reduction applied can often be a good idea when looking to subtly “warm up” your digitally recorded audio tracks.

3. CLA-76 Compressor

Part of the CLA Classic Compressors Collection, but also available to purchase individually, the CLA-76 is an emulation of probably the most well-known and beloved compressor of all time: the Universal Audio 1176 Limiting Amplifier (compressor).

ADVERTISEMENT

5 Most Popular Waves Audio Plugins (+ Mix Tips)

5 Most Popular Waves Audio Plugins (+ Mix Tips)

Much like the CLA-2A, the CLA-76 is fairly simple to operate, with the main differences being the additional attack, release, ratio and “revision” settings available to the user.

While someone who’s new to the concept of compression may find the idea of all these additional controls a bit daunting, in practice you’ll find that most engineers use the exact same settings 90% of the time regardless of source material. The main variable is whether they use the “blackface” or “blueface” version of the plugin.

Check out the video below, in which David Glenn uses the CLA-76 plugin to parallel compress a bass guitar for added sustain, attack and consistency.

Video Thumbnail

How to Mix Bass Guitar with Parallel Processing

Waves Audio are without a doubt the most widely used and well known brand of professional audio software and plugins, and have been so for almost 30 years at this point. Alongside developing the first audio plugin, the Waves Q10 Paragraphic EQ, and the hugely popular L1 Ultramaximizer/Limiter back i

My Top-Tips for Using the CLA-76 Plugin

Black or Blue: To my ears, the blueface variation is brighter and a bit more “spitty” sounding, while the blackface variation is smoother and a bit less aggressive. When looking to achieve a bright, aggressive, spitty, “in your face” vocal sound (a la CLA), try crushing the lead vocal with a 4:1 ratio, slow attack, fast release and 10 dB+ of peak reduction.

Cheat Sheet: For most purposes, setting the attack knob at 3 (slow), release knob at 7 (fastest) and ratio at 4:1 will work great. Simply dial in the amount of compression you want with the input knob and the amount of after-the-fact make-up gain you want with the output knob, and you’re good to go!

Do it in Parallel: Try absolutely crushing a drum room, bass or vocal with the fastest attack and release settings with the CLA-76 on a parallel channel and blending it in subtly under your primary signal to gain all the benefits of the boosted sustain without totally sucking all the life out of your initial transients.

4. L1 Ultramaximizer/Limiter

One of the most iconic plugins ever released, the Waves L1 Ultramaximizer/Limiter is a one-stop-shop for gently taming or absolutely obliterating the dynamic peaks of an incoming audio signal.

5 Most Popular Waves Audio Plugins (+ Mix Tips)

Much like the CLA-2A compressor we’ve talked about previously in this article, the L1 is extremely simple to operate. Simply pull down the threshold fader until you’re taming the incoming peaks by the desired amount, then adjust the output ceiling to the level you’d like the signal to sit at.

Check out the video below from Waves for some examples of the L1 and it’s younger brother L2 in action.

Video Thumbnail

How to Use the Waves L1 and L2 Ultramaximizer Plugins

Waves Audio are without a doubt the most widely used and well known brand of professional audio software and plugins, and have been so for almost 30 years at this point. Alongside developing the first audio plugin, the Waves Q10 Paragraphic EQ, and the hugely popular L1 Ultramaximizer/Limiter back i

My Top-Tips for Using the L1 Plugin

Transparent Limiting: With a totally raw and dynamic vocal track, you’ll often have a few words which are drastically “peakier” and louder than the rest scattered throughout the performance. When using a slower compressor such as the CLA-2A, these loud peaks will cause the compressor to “pump” due to the slow release time. Taming these peaks beforehand by a few dB with a super-fast and transparent limiter such as the L1 will prevent your vocal from pumping your compressors down the line, resulting in a much more natural final vocal sound.

Soften: Sometimes you’ll come across a tacky piano track, pokey snare, or overly “picky” guitar track that simply makes your eyes hurt. Try using the L1 to shave off some of the harsh attack, and allow these instruments to sink back into the mix in a more natural and pleasing way.

5. Vocal Rider

A fairly unique plugin, the Waves Vocal Rider is basically the digital equivalent of having someone manually ride (adjust) the volume fader of a vocal track from start-to-finish, but without all of the time-consuming, boring and frustrating bits that go hand in hand with doing the real thing.

5 Most Popular Waves Audio Plugins (+ Mix Tips)

In a nutshell, the “target” slider is used to determine the average level you’d like the vocal to sit at within the mix, then the plugin will automatically increase/decrease (ride) the volume of the vocal based on your chosen speed (fast or slow reaction time) and range (max/min volume increase/decrease applied) settings.

My Top-Tip for Using the Vocal Rider Plugin

Ease the Load on Your Compressors: Compressors can potentially pump and spit in an unpleasant way if the raw performance you’re feeding into them is too dynamic. In order to ease the load on my compressors from the get go and start with fairly even vocal tracks which are all sitting around a similar overall average volume, I’ll often run all of my vocals into individual instances of Vocal Rider as the first step of my vocal mixing chain.

Final Conclusion

You’ll often come across user comments and software advertisements on the web saying one manufacturer’s version of a plugin emulation is “far more realistic” than another’s. Personally, I say that most of the time the small differences really aren’t worth all the fuss. If you understand how the tools work, you can get great results using any one of them.

Regardless of whether Waves plugins are “the most authentic next to the real thing” or not, they have a sound that myself and literally thousands of engineers love and use on a daily basis. They definitely deserve their legendary status as some of the best audio processing plugins of all time.

Thomas Brett

Thomas Brett

Thomas Brett is a producer, engineer and professional writer currently working for PDND Music, a successful record label & recording studio based in Istanbul, Turkey. Thomas has worked with well known Turkish pop artists such as Soner Sarıkabadayı, Beyza Durmaz and Alper Erözer. Learn more and get in touch at thomasbrettmixing.com

FREE Masterclass: Low-End Mixing Secrets

Downloaded Over 19,455 times!

Discover how to make your kick and bass hit hard by cutting (NOT boosting) the right frequencies! Plus, more counterintuitive ways to get fuller yet controlled low-end in your mix. Download this 40-minute workshop by Matthew Weiss, now for FREE!

Powered by ConvertKit